One of Blake's first experiments in relief etching reflects a drawing attributed to Robert by Gilchrist on the authority of Tatham, who acquired the residue of Blake's work on the death of Catherine Blake.
Sketch by Robert Blake Approach of Doom
Engraving by William Blake Approach of Doom
The experience of the death of his beloved brother confirmed Blake's belief in immortality. The spiritual presence of his brother remained real to Blake throughout his life. The notebook in which Robert had made sketches was treasured by William after his brother's death. William sketched and wrote notes and drafts of his poems in the hand-me-down notebook from his brother until every available space was filled with the inspirations which came to him.
Letters, (E 705) [To] William Hayley Esqr, Eartham, near Chichester, Sussex Lambeth May 6 1800. Dear Sir I am very sorry for your immense loss, which is a repetition of what all feel in this valley of misery & happiness mixed--I send the Shadow of the departed Angel. hope the likeness is improved. The lip I have again lessened as you advised & done a good many other softenings to the whole--I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they were apparent to our mortal part. Thirteen years ago. I lost a brother & with his spirit I converse daily & hourly in the Spirit. & See him in my remembrance in the regions of my Imagination. I hear his advice & even now write from his Dictate--Forgive me for expressing to you my Enthusiasm which I wish all to partake of Since it is to me a Source of Immortal Joy even in this world by it I am the companion of Angels. May you continue to be so more & more & to be more & more perswaded. that every Mortal loss is an Immortal Gain. The Ruins of Time builds Mansions in Eternity.--I have also sent A Proof of Pericles for your Remarks thanking you for the kindness with which you Express them & feeling heartily your Grief with a brothers Sympathy I remain Dear Sir Your humble Servant WILLIAM BLAKEPerhaps more unusual than the spiritual consolation Blake felt from Robert's constant presence, was the practical assistance which William acknowledged that he received from his brother as he worked out the technique for producing his illuminated engraved books.
This passage about William's struggle to invent a way to publish his graphic work with accompanying text is from page 70 of The Life of William Blake by Alexander Gilchrist:
"He had not the wherewithal to publish on his own account; and though he could be his own engraver, he could scarcely be his own compositor. Long and deeply he meditated. How solve this difficulty with his own in- dustrious hands? How be his own printer and publisher? The subject of anxious daily thought passed — as anxious meditation does with us all — into the domain of dreams and (in his case) of visions. In one of these a happy In- spiration befell, not, of course, without supernatural agency. After intently thinking by day and dreaming by night during long weeks and months, of his cherished objective the image of the vanished pupil and brother at last blended with it. In a vision of the night, the form of Robert stood before him, and revealed the wished-for secret directing him to the technical mode by which could be produced a fac-simile of song and design. On his rising in the morning, Mrs. Blake went out with half-a-crown, all the money they had in the world, and of that laid Is. 10d. on the simple materials necessary for setting in practice the new revelation. Upon that investment at Is. 10d. he started what was to prove a principal means of support through his future life, — the series of poems and writings illustrated by coloured plates, often highly finished afterwards by hand, — which became the most efficient and durable means of revealing Blake's genius to the world. This method, to which Blake henceforth consistently adhered for multiplying his works, was quite an original one. It consisted in a species of engraving in relief both words and designs. The verse was written and the designs and marginal embellishments outlined on the copper with an impervious liquid, probably the ordinary stopping-out varnish of engravers. Then all the white parts or lights, the remainder of the plate that is, were eaten away with aquafortis or other acid, so that the outline of letter and design was left prominent, as in stereotype. From these plates he printed off in any tint, yellow, brown, blue, required to be the prevailing, or ground colour in his fac- similes ; red he used for the letter-press. The page was then coloured up by hand in imitation of the original drawing, with more or less variety of detail in the local hues."
It is believed that Blake may have included the instructions for creating his illuminated books in Island in the Moon but removed them to maintain secrecy. He left this fanciful passage about how lucrative the process might prove to be.
An Island in the Moon, (E 465) PAGE X "them Illuminating the Manuscript--Ay said she that would be excellent. Then said he I would have all the writing Engraved instead of Printed & at every other leaf a high finishd print all in three Volumes folio, & sell them a hundred pounds a piece. they would Print off two thousand then said she whoever will not have them will be ignorant fools & will not deserve to live"